• Robison Wells

"Liars" by Gregory Alan Isakov

As a long-form writer, I’m always impressed by poets and lyricists who are able to encapsulate deep emotion and meaning in just a few words. Even when the concept is simply, it can be so emotionally evocative. So it is with the first stanza of Gregory Alan Isakov’s Liars:

You take the big one And I’ll take his brother Let’s get this over with ‘Cause I’m late for work

So much is said in so few words, but what is said is interesting: It’s a fight, but there’s such a dull inevitability of the outcome. “Let’s get this over with cause I’m late for work” speaks volumes about the relationship between the singer and the speaker, the disdain and disregard with which they view the big one and his brother, and the nonchalance with which they plan to “get this over with”.

The song is called Liars, but while that title is saved for the end, glimpses of its meaning are sprinkled throughout the song. In a series of vignettes about growing up and getting more mature, in a worldly sense, we see an existential disconnect between the singer’s words and his meaning. This is highlighted particularly in the final lines of each long stanza:

I sold all my baseball cards to buy me some clothes. That’s how it goes, that’s how it goes.

Here he betrays a sense of loss, emphasized by the music accompanying the words, and the inflection with which he sings them. He sold his baseball cards to buy clothes, but that’s just because that’s what’s done, it’s what’s expected of him, and “that’s how it goes”.

This is more acutely noticed in the second long stanza:

I sold all these clothes to buy me some land. I’m sorta happy, most of the time, most of the time.

By now he’s traded up again, going from baseball cards to clothes to land, but he’s only “sorta” happy “most of the time”. He repeats the most of the time, as if to try to reassure himself that he believes it.

Finally, in the last long stanza he “sold all this land to buy me some dreams just like the movies we played when we were kids”, so he’s going full circle, selling the adult possessions of clothes and land to go back to the baseball card dreams he had as a kid.

It is here when the refrain kicks in, accompanied by the Colorado Orchestra to great effect:

Now we’re just liars, now we’re just liars, now we’re just liars, now we’re just liars.

Because he isn’t really happy, and he hasn’t ever really found the happiness that he lost when he first sold those baseball cards as a kid.

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